Summary: Showing love to those outside the Christian community enhances our witness.
Love and the Angry Outsider
Lately Pat and I have been talking about taking a trip to Europe. It would be our first trip there. Anyone going to Europe faces a problem. You see, Europe isn’t like Texas; Europe is big. So, unless you plan a really long visit you have to limit where you go.
Pat would like to go to Italy and I, being an unabashed Anglophile, would like to go to England. I don’t have anything against Italy, but I do worry that I don’t know how to say, “Ketchup only on that cheeseburger, please” in Italian. I’ve actually thought that if we were to go to Italy, maybe we’d be lucky enough to fly home on a plane which was hijacked by a crazed Spice Girls fan who would make the plane fly to London in an attempt to force the girls back together. I’m thinking that a person could see a lot of England by the time Posh, Baby, Scary, Sporty, and Ginger returned from all over the world. Of course, there’s a downside: if that happened we might be forced to attend the concert.
Anyway, Italy has a lot to offer. There are magnificent churches, great art museums, and places of historical interest. I could see the coliseum where so many Christians died, visit the supposed site of Peter’s crucifixion, or go to Manheim prison where Paul would spend his last days before being executed. Yes, the early church suffered greatly in Italy.
But that raises a question.
You know that Jesus commanded his followers to love. You know that the early church was famed for its love. One critic actually marveled that the Christians loved each other even before they met. Yet, so many hated them. What was that all about; after all, doesn’t everybody love a lover? Why were these men and women who were famed for their love tossed to the lions?
It’s a question which we can answer only if we remember something about the character of Christian love. Remember, agapé love, the love to which Christians aspired, involved the mind more than the heart. It didn’t reject feelings but it sure wasn’t driven by them. It’s great aim was to seek the best for the other. As Barclay described it, agapé always seeks a person’s “highest good.” Now, when you hear that, remember that to the early Christians a person’s highest good always involved having a right relationship with God.
Today, however, we tend to think that a person’s highest good is self-affirmation. So, in our understanding, love involves making a person feel good about himself or herself. Love should build our self-esteem, we’re told. Not only does love mean never having to say you’re sorry, it means never saying you should be sorry.
Last week over 2500 Episcopalians gathered in Dallas to discuss what they should do in the face of the recent election of a homosexual bishop. One of the attendees explained their position by referring to Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery. The minister explained, “Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.’ Yet, some, out of a false understanding of love, represent Jesus as saying, ‘Neither do I condemn thee, go and accept yourself.’ But that’s not Christian love, Christian love is transforming love.”
Our culture’s understanding of love is so distorted that some expressions of Christian love are regularly described as hate-speech or acts of arrogance and bigotry. If there is a bias against Christianity in some areas of American life, and I believe there is, it is almost certainly focused against those Christians who are consistently carrying out the demands of love.
Very likely that’s what happened to the Roman Christians.
Because the Christians loved the Romans…
--they told him that their idols were false, that their mystery religions offered empty promises, that Jesus Christ was the only God-ordained way of salvation.
--they challenged their sensual lifestyles which endorsed adultery, homosexuality, and pedophilia.
--they defied the policies which permitted the deaths of unwanted infants through exposure to the elements or starvation. (In time they were considered enemies of the state because they rescued so many of these children.)
--they insisted that God’s love extended beyond the narrow boundaries of any one group or people.
--they violated the laws which would have silenced their witness to Jesus.
Although the resistance to Christianity was not as intense as it would eventually become, the Christians in Rome had probably encountered some who had treated them badly because of their commitment to Christ. If those who mistreated them weren’t officials of the state, they may have been neighbors, employers, masters (if the Christians were slaves), spouses or other family members. How were they to respond to such mistreatment? And, how should we?